Sunday, 23 September 2012

St Ouen's Church - Part 2

I've been round St Ouen's Church twice recently with friends, and there are many good guide books. Channel Island Churches by John McCormack is excellent for giving architectural development and features. But years and years ago, probably forgotten, G.R. Balleine wrote up a piece on the history of St Ouen's Church, the first part of which is transcribed below. Balleine had a wonderful grasp of how to make historical narrative interesting, and peppers his history with interesting anecdotes.

St Ouen's Church, because of its white walls, looks in places very austere, and it is easy to imagine how it might have been in Reformation times. The Reformation is often seen as a good thing, clearing away the corruption of Catholicism, but it was also very puritanical, and as an anecdote from Balleine shows, included very public confession for any behaviour deemed to be a moral (rather than a legal) misdemeanor. That's a site that often gets forgotten, that while private confession ceases, public confession was firmly in place. It's mentioned in James Woodforde's diaries in England - it wasn't just confined to Jersey, but under the Calvinist influence, it probably was especially severe here.

Bishop Wilberforce - mentioned as reconsecrating the Church - was the same Bishop who got into a tussle with T.H. Huxley over evolution in a public debate. The Bishop was known as "soapy Sam" after a comment by Disraeli that he was "unctuous, oleaginous, saponaceous".

In the 1860 debate on evolution, he is said to have asked Thomas Henry Huxley whether it was through his grandfather or his grandmother that he claimed his descent from a monkey, and got as answer that "he would not be ashamed to have a monkey for his ancestor, but he would be ashamed to be connected with a man who used his great gifts to obscure the truth." However, this was largely a myth propagated by Huxley, and the Bishop actually made some very solid points against weaknesses in Darwin's position

The permanence of specific forms was a fact confirmed by all observation. The remains of animals, plants, and man found in those earliest records of the human race - the Egyptian catacombs, all spoke of their identity with existing forms, and of the irresistible tendency of organized beings to assume an unalterable character. The line between man and the lower animals was distinct: there was no tendency on the part of the lower animals to become the self-conscious intelligent being, man; or in man to degenerate and lose the high characteristics of his mind and intelligence. All experiments had failed to show any tendency in one animal to assume the form of the other. In the great case of the pigeons quoted by Mr Darwin, he admitted that no sooner were these animals set free than they returned to their primitive type. Everywhere sterility attended hybridism, as was seen in the closely-allied forms of the horse and the ass.

for more background, see this:

History of St Ouen's Church by G.R. Balleine (Part 2)


Two incidents are typical of the eighteenth century. Ecclesiastical discipline was still a real thing.

In 1726 Simon De Caen, one of the leading men in the parish, failed to appear in church on his wedding day. For nine years the Ecclesiastical Court made efforts to persuade him to marry the lady. At last it excommunicated him, and the Rector read the sentence from the pulpit declaring him "cut off from the Body of Christ as a septic limb." and commanding all Christians "to avoid his company lest they participate in his sin." This brought him to heel. Seven months later he married his Madeleine, and on the following Sunday received public absolution.

For each quarterly Communion, when the whole parish communicated, the Churchwardens provided a barrel of wine, and at the close of the Service parishioners gathered round the Communion Table to consume what remained unconsecrated. But one Churchwarden, Philippe Guille, did not see why he should provide free drinks for all the parish. He removed the barrel under his arm, saying it would do for next time. But he was a reformer ahead of his age. The Ecclesiastical Court decided that he had been guilty of a grievous scandal, and "for the good of his soul and the reformation of his manners" ordered the public censure of the Court to be read from the pulpit on Sunday.


When we reach the nineteenth century, the font thrown out at the Reformation had not yet been replaced; for in 1806 Madame Hilgrove presented to the church a silver bowl to be used at baptisms. Shortly after, the parish received a very masterful Rector.

Twenty-five years before Francois Richard had been Constable; but he had taken holy orders, become an Army Chaplain, served as "Commissary for Ecclesiastical Discipline" (whatever that may mean) in Jamaica. In 1815 he returned to St Ouen's as Rector. He was evidently efficient. One of his congregation wrote of him :"He has transformed our church, which was worse than a piggery, into a Christian sanctuary. He has had it re-roofed, cleaned, and whitewashed. The canopy of the pulpit was so
rotten, that fragments often fell on the preacher's head, and its base was full of water all last winter. This he has had entirely remade by a master-craftsman, and it is now an ornament and a credit to the parish."
But he was a martinet. He was accused of ordering his parishioners about, as if they were Jamaican blacks. He would not tolerate unpunctuality. He locked the Church door as soon as the bell stopped ringing. One day the Seigneur was two minutes late. He hammered at the door with his gold-headed cane; but the key was in the Rector's pocket, and no one could open it. The Seigneur summoned Ricard before the Ecclesiastical Court for "preventing a parishioner from performing his religious duties." But he refused to enter the church again. Every Sunday he sat on a tombstone reading his newspaper.

Ricard then tried to resuscitate an almost forgotten law, and summoned him before the Royal Court to pay £5 for every Sunday he absented himself from worship. But the Court dismissed the case.

In modern times St Ouen's has been very happy with its Rectors. Philippe Payn, who was Rector for thirty-two years, received, when his health broke down, a glowing testimonial signed by all the chief parishioners:- "During the many years you have been with us you have performed the duties of your sacred calling with a zeal and fervour truly Christian. Your exhortations from the pulpit have done us good, but even better has been the example you have never failed .to set us. Gentle, accessible, and gracious to all, no one has ever been known to say a word against you, and, considering the times in which we live, we are singularly fortunate in being able to bear this testimony."

Yet even in his day there was trouble over pews. In 1833 the Churchwardens moved the position of the pulpit. Jean Arthur sued them in the Royal Court for £100 damages for depreciating the value of his pew, as he could no longer see the preacher. And he won his case!

One change at this time was regrettable. The parish orchestra, that for generations had led the singing with their cornets and fiddles, was disbanded and replaced by `a small finger-organ (i.e. one without pedals) in the west gallery.

Payn was succeeded by Canon Clement, under whom a great restoration was carried out between 1865 and 1870. The unsightly galleries were swept away. The militia cannon were ejected from the home that they had occupied for centuries at the end of the south aisle. After long and intricate negotiations, that tested to the uttermost the Rector's tact and patience, the owners of the clutter of horse-box pews scattered higgledy-piggledy through the building consented to a uniform and orderly system of seating. The chancel was vaulted and lengthened eight feet. A new organ was provided.

When the work was started, the estimated cost was £700, but the final bill was £5,000, towards which the parish voted £2,000, and the rest was raised by voluntary subscriptions. In addition to this, private donors gave a new pulpit, font, and lectern, and filled the windows with stained glass.

The lengthening of the chancel had one unexpected result. As the altar now stood on unconsecrated ground, the Bishop's lawyers decreed that the whole church must be reconsecrated, and this was done by Bishop Wilberforce on 5th August, 1870.

No comments: